Last week we visited Crossing Border and met some great authors. In case you missed it or if you just want to relive it, we’re sharing our report of the festival!
Both nights there were so many cool authors we wanted to see, but of course we had to make some decisions. We started our evening with Diane Cook and Arthur Bradford and immediately knew we made the right choice. Both are American authors who recently published a book of short stories. Diane Cook worked at This American Life for a long time, but quit to get a graduate degree to buy herself some time before writing her book. Arthur Bradford on the other hand, had written a collection of short stories before and had even been at Crossing Border twice. He had brought his guitar this time as well and people who had seen him in 2001 were worried about him smashing it on stage for a second time.
Highlights of the interview were both authors reading. They write magical realism and sometimes just fantastical stories about a man who lurks in a yard and a boy who dives face first unto a turtle. We wanted to buy the books immediately. Bradford read for a second time with his guitar, but this time he didn’t smash it when things got excited.
Interviewer Joni Zwart also asked the fun question of what type of medicine their book would be. Bradford immediately said Cook could go first and she answered thoughtfully that a friend of hers had given her book to someone who was grieving and that she had found it very helpful. She writes dark stories about losing something, but that have hope in them as well. Bradford by then had some time to think about it and said that he always likes reading about people being stupider than you are, so his book is like a painkiller that gives you a hell of a buzz without being too addictive.
Matt Haig was interviewed together with Erik Jan Harmens, and even though the subject of the evening was suicide and addiction, there was a lot of laughter as well. Matt read part of his new book Reasons to Stay Alive and gave some great words of encouragement. Writing his previous book Humans gave him the confidence to write this book. It helped to articulate his feelings on being depressed and to show this to others. Writing the book was a way of trying to do a good thing, but also to feel less alone. Erik Jan told us he gets asked for help a lot after writing his book Hallo Muur. Mostly partners of alcoholics write to him, asking what they should do. This is a strange burden, because you want people to talk about these issues, but at same time they should look for real help, with real doctors. Both Haig and Harmens try to answer as many letters as they can though.
Atticus Lish was interviewed by Henk van Straaten and the room was absolutely packed. Arthur Bradford made an appearance in the audience and later we found out he went to school with Atticus. He talked about his novel Preparation for the Next Life and that he wrote this book about a soldier and a Chinese immigrant not as much as a critique, but more as a story to enjoy. He came up with the idea by looking at news stories. He calls himself a boring middle class person, but found interesting characters and settings by looking at was happening in the world.
Lish has a somewhat strange background, having studied math, being a marine and dabbling in MMA fighting. He spoke Chinese at a young age and lived in Chinatown for a while together with illegal immigrants. He never lead a clear bookish life, even though his father is a famous editor, and still isn’t attracted to that. This makes his book the way it is, more physical, heavier and based on what he sees around him. Lish was so friendly and downplayed his success and all the interest around his book, that van Straaten restated several times that we should all go out and buy his book because it is amazing.
Our second day of Crossing Border was again filled with lots of great writers, so it was quite hard to pick and choose. Ryan Gattis, Marilynne Robinson, David Vann, Gustaaf Peek and Leon de Winter were all present, and then I’m only naming a few. In short, it was a book lover’s paradise.
First stop of the evening was an interview with Laird Hunt and Peter Terrin by Arjan Visser. Visser shortly mentioned the Paris attacks and the influence of disasters like this on the writers. Their latest novels Monte Carlo and Neverhome were also covered, but it really became interesting when we discovered that Terrin and Hunt both started out as short story writers. Hunt even started with Haiku, to move on to prose poems and then novels. He playfully adds that he has finally found a sweet spot, namely 250 pages.
Terrin had a different experience: at age 23 he wrote his first novel in which he let everything out, but, when he reread it he thought it was terrible and threw it away. Raymond Carver enlightened him with the wisdom that you don’t have to write literary to write literature. He started writing again, short stories this time and when he entered a contest he won. Interesting fact: he calls the novels he’s written thus far extended short stories and added that he still hasn’t discovered what the novel actually can do. Luckily he’s very keen on finding this out.
Instead of Marilynne Robinson I decided to go to The Chronicles instead, a project where young translators (to be) get the chance to translate a work of a writer of their own choice. Here I discovered writers Olga Grjasnowa (All Russians Love Birch Trees), Maciej Milkowski (Tattoo), Sara Baume (Spill Simmer Falter Wither) and Frederik Willem Daem (Zelfs de vogels vallen) and their wonderful young translators. It was a really awesome hour where the attention was not only on the writers, but also on their translators. Funny story is how one of Grjasnowa’s translators discovered a mistake in her book that even the editor has overlooked. Conclusion? Translators are really the best readers. At the end of every interview all writers read a part from their work while the audience could read the translation simultaneously.
Although I enjoyed everything, my absolute highlight of the evening was David Vann. Hans Bouman interviewed him and he really did an awesome job. Everyone who’s read anything by Vann knows that his writing – to use Bouman’s words – is eventful, tragic and filled with violence. This is not a coincidence since Vann’s personal history is filled with tragedy: five suicides and a murder. In only half an hour Bouman manages to ask the right questions and cover every novel Vann has written. What struck me was that, despite the heavy topics, Vann was very funny and made the audience burst out in laughter more than once. After the suicides and murder were mentioned he jokingly added: ‘I couldn’t have asked for more [as a writer].
When Bouman zooms in on Legend of a Suicide, Vann admits that after his father committed suicide when Vann was only thirteen years old, he was very angry. He admits that the arts saved him, because, when he joined a theatre group he had to tell the truth about his father’s death. Before this he always told everyone that his father died of cancer. Afterwards I also got the chance to get my copy of Dirt (that I’ve been meaning to read for ages) signed so yes, this was a very fulfilling thirty minutes for me.
Luckily the evening wasn’t over yet, because the grand dame of Spanish literature Almudena Grandes was interviewed by Rosan Hollak. They mostly talked about Grandes’ latest novel De drie bruiloften van Manolita, which is about love, friendship and courage during the Franco regime. It consists of a very impressing 163 characters, quite the accomplishment if you ask me.
Grandes looked like a really nice and fun person and it was fascinating to hear her talk about her family history and her novels. During this interview I also spotted a theme since Grandes also revealed her working methods. She loves to work with outlooks, as she puts it: she has to seduce herself with a story. If she likes it she can move on to the characters and wants to know everything of them. Then on to chronology and structure, which is very important according to Grandes. She compares the novel to a house: without a good structure it’s nothing. If all of this is in place, she can finally start writing.
What can I say? Crossing Border was anything but a disappointment. I’ve listened to fascinating writers and discovered a few as well. Oh, and also very important: lots of books were added to my TBR-pile. Result!
A special thank you to Crossing Border for letting us to write about their great festival. The report of Friday is written by Esmée de Heer & the report of Saturday by Maritza Dubravac.